It’s the new year.
Ads about “being good.”
People “getting back on the wagon.”
Office fitness challenges.
New year, new start, new you.
Triggers, triggers, triggers.
And for the first time in my life, I don’t feel like my trigger’s getting tripped.
In fact, I’m mostly just…bored with all of this talk. I don’t have any feelings about it at all.
Over the holidays—you know, forced feeding season in the company break room—one of my coworkers (who doesn’t really know about my double life as a body positive, anti-diet activist) came up to me and offered me a lemon bar.
I politely declined—not because there was too much sugar, or it was off my plan, but because I had just eaten a bagel and peanut butter, and I honestly wasn’t hungry. Being able to not be a restrictor but also eat intuitively and not depend on my emotions to make my decisions and also know when being overfull is worth it, I just didn’t feel like eating a lemon bar (if it had been something with chocolate, I would have probably reconsidered).
She looked at me and said, “Oh, you’re so good.”
I guarantee you, my decision had nothing to do with my moral status.
So I just calmly responded, “Nah, I’m not ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ Just not hungry right now. But if I’m hungry later, I’ll grab one from the break room. Thanks though!”
That was it. And then I went about my day. I didn’t obsess about the lemon bars. I didn’t feel like I deserved a gold star for my health status and my decision making process. I just…did my work and also ate chocolate later because…chocolate.
I can feel my inner eating disordered self—the me who spent the entirety of her adult life getting tripped and triggered and angered and involved and invested—asking:
HOW are you not getting triggered anymore? HOW is this not bothering you? HOW are you not getting angry or upset? And HOW are you not tempted to get on the bandwagon too???
I don’t know. I mean, I do know, but I think the thing I know is individual to my person, my experience, my mental health, and even my privilege.
Let me explain what I mean:
When I started this journey, I was still getting triggered all the time. Exercise triggered me. Hearing about others’ exercise triggered me. Sitting in my office and watching people do burpees in the room next to my cubicle triggered me. Hearing diet talk triggered me. Watching my coworkers lose weight triggered me. Hearing compliments on others’ weight loss triggered me. Ads on TV or the internet about weight loss or exercise products triggered me.
Up until fairly recently, actually.
But I believe that, as I’ve recovered, as I’ve let go of nearly every rule I’ve ever made about my body, as I’ve proven to myself that bad things don’t happen when I break the rules or even gain weight, I’ve become more able to sit with the anxiety that comes up in the moment when the trigger gets pulled.
So my mental health is pretty solid: I haven’t had any major depressive episodes since early/mid 2014. I only have non-body based anxiety attacks now. I do not restrict food at all. I have my exercise addiction under control, and I’ve been able to scale back on my exercise and take real breaks (none of that active-recovery-on-rest-days BS I used to excuse 7-day-a-week exercise). None of my mental health issues are currently distorting my thinking or making it difficult for me to cope right now.
I have my Discovery dialed in: I have an identity outside of my health status. I have actual friends whom I can actually see in person (or have drag queen tea parties with over Skype because they live too far away *cough* Kelly Boaz *cough*.) I have a real-live actual healthy relationship with a person who communicates with me, validates me, and makes me feel safe (and allows me to do all three for him!). I don’t need food or body stuff to validate my existence anymore.
And…and I think this is maybe the most important and less talked about thing…I have privilege. I don’t think we talk about this enough in the recovery world, because so many of the voices are thin, white, affluent, etc. but I really think this needs to be addressed:
It is easy for me to be calm. It is easy for me to take a step back and reframe. It is easy for me to avoid the triggers, because:
I’m still straight sized. I’m white. I have an hourglass shape, even if my BMI says I’m “overweight.” I’m on the low end of the overweight BMI scale, and some of that is muscle. I have access to things like a functional medicine doctor who helped me get my hormones and neurotransmitters back in balance. I have insurance and access to therapy. I recognize—while it’s sometimes hard for me to accept—that I fit many of the standards of beauty that are widely accepted in the greater society, even if they’re not the standards that fit in the obsessive health and fitness world.
Since I’ve dropped ALL of the health and fitness BS, I’m no longer surrounded by impossibly lean people. And in the broader world, my body is considered very acceptable. I do not get trolled for being too fat. I rarely get concern trolled about my health. I am bigger than some plus-sized models, but only by a little bit. And people, for the most part, understand when I say that I have an eating disorder and can’t engage in diet talk anymore.
I don’t come from a family that encourages cleaning the plate. I don’t come from a culture that’s based around food.
So when I turn down a lemon bar and gently try to reframe the conversation, I don’t get pushback.
When I eat a lemon bar, people don’t talk to me about my health, except in the broadest, conversational terms because they think that talking about diets are a good way to bond. (FYI: they’re not.)
When someone makes a diet talk-y comment, and I disengage, they don’t go after me. Or if they do, I just unfollow them on Facebook or block them on Twitter or Instagram or ignore them in the real world.
I don’t have people hounding me to “fix my health” and get thin.
I don’t feel pressure to use my body to apologize for prejudices I would otherwise experience because of my ethnicity, my shape, my gender, or my size.
I don’t have to shout to be heard.
I am still frustrated and angry with diet culture. I want to tear down the diet industry and eviscerate our language so I can make the world safe for all bodies. I’m on fire with passion and some days it feel like I’m going to burn up before I get my message across in a meaningful way.
But for the most part, I can speak quietly and not get steamrolled or dismissed. And if I am dismissed, it’s usually not in a way that threatens my life or asks for an apology for my existence.
So it’s easy.
If you’re fat, if you’re not white, if you’re trans or genderqueer, if you’re not straight, if you “can’t pass,” it’s hard.
And if you’re dealing with a mental health issue that gets ignored except when it affects young, thin, white cisgender heterosexual women, it’s even harder.
And I have so much compassion for you. I want this world to be safe for you to recover in too.
I know that so much of my audience is made up of thin, white cisgender women who are also dealing with mental health issues, and I want to make the world safe for them too. I want the world to be safe for all of us.
But that means that there’s no one right answer for how to stop getting triggered. For me, it meant Discovery. It meant getting my mental health in balance. It meant getting the hell out of the fitness and nutrition community, because it’s a dangerous place for anyone who is not prepared to approach food and fitness with neutrality and moderation. It meant telling my story publicly. And it meant learning about others’ experience. It meant surrounding myself with other peoples’ bodies, and it meant understanding and even checking my privilege.
I can’t pretend to speak for everyone. I can’t pretend that there’s a secret formula that we can all follow to suddenly learn body acceptance. But I can use my privilege to help reframe the conversation as much as possible so that when others who have less or different privilege from me speak, they are heard.
This is a hard post to write, because I hate admitting that I don’t have the answers for you. I hate admitting that I can only share my own experience, but that experience can’t speak for all experiences, and my experience alone cannot save the world.
Instead, I just want you to be able to hear the voices of others—to hear them, to carry their messages, to respect and honor them, and, in time, come to respect and honor yourself.
In today’s podcast I talked with Kelsey Miller, author of the new book Big Girl: How I Gave Up Dieting and Got a Life and the creator of the Anti-Diet Project on Refinery29, we talked a lot about privilege. And I hope that I don’t come off sounding like I’m tone policing anyone, because it worries me when I speak from a place of privilege that it will sound like I’m trying to speak for everyone.
Sometimes, you have to yell at the person who moralized your food in order to be heard. Sometimes, you can speak calmly. Sometimes you will be heard. Sometimes, you won’t. And sometimes you have to fight harder to be heard, which makes it harder to let go of the things that pull your trigger.
I want you all to know that, no matter how you’re coping with your triggers, however you’re using your voice (as long as it’s not hurting others), if you’re using your voice to make the world a safer place for yourself, I respect you. And I want you to be heard. And you have my commitment that I will continue to learn how to be a better ally. To accept your feedback, and to shut up when it’s your turn to speak. And to recognize that you need more turns to speak.
This week’s podcast was really amazing—I respect Kelsey’s work a lot, and I hope you get a chance to listen in on—and participate in—this conversation: